A new outlook in the pipeline?

Recently media had carried news about the new documentary film, ‘Inshallah Football’ being issued an ‘Adults Only’ certificate by the censor board because of its so called controversial subject – Kashmir as the film’s backdrop. Just days after India celebrated the birthday of the Father of the Indian Constitution which gave every Indian the right to freedom of expression, this ‘A’ certificate completely goes against our constitutional rights, says Bollywood analysts.

The then censor board chief Sharmila Tagore who has been a part of the film industry for decades on her part justified the ‘A’ certificate on account of its content. But there are those who believe that political forces have been instrumental behind it as it showed the government in poor light. Whatever be the reason, the public in general has been robbed of a good documentary that to an extent could have expedited the discussion on Kashmir. For those who don’t know, ‘Inshallah Football’ is a story about a young footballer in Kashmir who faces obstacles in procuring a passport from the Indian government because of his father’s past linkage to militants and his militant training in Pakistan.

Last month end, Sharmila Tagore was replaced as a censor board chief by Leela Samson after the end of her second term. After a six year reign and amidst a few controversies, Tagore has passed the baton on to Leela Samson who has a totally different background altogether. Chairperson of the Sangeet Natak Akademi and a renowned writer and Bharatanatyam dancer, this new role of the censor board chief is a totally alien task at hand for Samson. But she knows that her job is to look at a film from an aesthetic and traditional point of view when dealing with it.

While the Hindus have requested the new board chief to curb unnecessary violence and vulgarity keeping in mind the rampant depiction in Bollywood fares, Samson knows she has a tough task at hand especially since she has not much sense of the film making process or censorship. At the same time, the Indian Constitution guarantees freedom of expression as long as it doesn’t disturb communal harmony or hurt religious sentiments.

Lately, there had been quite a few films that reached a far lesser audiences against what had been anticipated earlier thanks to censor board which either went snip snip with the cuts or opted for an ‘A’ certificate. An ‘A’ certificate curbs the teenagers and in some cases adult families from coming to the theatres to watch the film collectively. While the producers and directors may feel that the controversial scenes are central to the film, they opt for the ‘A’ certificate rather then go for a cut and hence loose out on the minor audiences.

In most cases even an ‘A’ certificate is hard to come by when the producers and directors stick to their guns and avoid snipping some scenes that they feel are important to the story. Anurag Kashyap is one such director whose film ‘Paanch’ has been stuck with the censor board because of the various cuts it’s been demanding ever since the film was made in 2000. Kashyap being a new player then and totally believing in his film, refused to remove the controversial scenes in the film and the censor board refused a certificate. If luck prevails Kashyap will see his film see the light of day soon.

Another film, ‘War And Peace’ by Anand Patwardhan too faced creative differences with the censor board who asked Patwardhan to make 21 cuts in his film that had scenes of nuclear testing and September 11 incident. Patwardhan took the matter to court who ruled in his favour and the film was released without any cut. But director Sridhar Rangavan was not as lucky as Patwardhan. His film ‘Gulabi Aaina’ based around transsexuals has been stuck with the censor board since 2003. The censor board found the film vulgar and offensive and banned it and despite knocking on the doors of the legal system twice, it still stays banned. Likewise, ‘Final Solution’ a documentary on communal disharmony based on the Gujarat riots of 2002 too was banned by the board but luck favoured its makers and the banned was lifted after a few months.

Between the freedom of expression and the need for censorship, there is a very distinct line. Today with more and more media at the common man’s disposal, reality is distinctively clear. While the censor board looks at the broader goal that of having clean films sans any violence, nudity, expletives or controversial subjects, this often results in freedom of expression going out for a toss as had been the case with a film like ‘Paanch’ that glorified violence, showed drug abuse and had expletives.

In case of ‘War and Peace’, sensitive tops of nuclear testing and September 11 were touched. If such a scenario continues, will the audience be privy to less and less of realistic and sensitive films and more of your average bummers? Somewhere down the line, the censor board needs to become a bit lenient with the film’s content. The audience today is more aware of the happenings around them and nothing is news or shocking to any extent. The audience’s mind is sharper, more learned today. With Leela Samson in the chief’s saddle, hope there is a new approach to censorship in her new innings as the chief of censor board.